Archive for Politics

Will We Drown In Denial Or Face The Sea Change of Climate Reality

Of all the searing images in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the one that I find most disturbing is this picture of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remained throughout the storm at great personal danger. That we must honor our military dead even at the risk of completely unnecessary loss of life speaks volumes about our priorities in this country.

I rarely watch cable news, but I found myself obsessively switching between a local news channel, CNN and The Weather Channel for much of the storm.  There was much valuable and urgent information shared although much of it looked like a contest between reporters to see who could report while standing in the deepest water and stay standing (and I absolutely need to say that throughout the storm, I consistently found critical information being disseminated on Twitter well before I saw it on television). But not once did I hear any mention of the many nuclear power plants in the storm’s path, or a discussion of what to do if your house is flooded with toxic waste or the lack of plans to protect oil and gas facilities. No analysis of what climate change denial and inaction has cost us.

Nor was there mention of the fact that we’ve known that storms like this have been an event waiting to happen.  Instead, as I pointed out a few days ago, we have continued to beat the drum in the fight against “terrorism”, pouring billions of dollars into destroying other countries, killing innocent civilians and creating conditions in which terrorism ferments and while we’re at it doing an ace job of brainwashing ourselves into being perpetually paranoid and terrified while at the same time allowing the infrastructure of our own country to go to hell.

As Chris Mooney pointed out in Grist, NASA warned about an event like Sandy in 2006:

Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.

And of course, that wasn’t the only warning.  WE KNEW IT COULD HAPPEN.  And we did nothing.  As a result we are now contending with this:

Consider what Kathy Waters, American Public Transportation Association vice president for member services had to say about the New York subway system,

The New York system, although there are some components that have been upgraded over the years, has a lot of antique components where the vendor has been out of business for 50 years. (emphasis mine)

And then there is this from NRDC’s Amy Mall:

Under the Clean Water Act, there is something called the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule which includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines…Sounds like a no-brainer. But in Fiscal Year 2011, EPA officials visited 120 sites oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance– 87.5%…Almost every single oil and gas site inspected lacked a mandatory spill prevention plan meant to protect our rivers and streams. (emphasis mine)
 

Internet, cable and phone services were also significantly disrupted and yet two days later with thousands of people still without access, I heard a report of a FEMA official telling people to file claims on the internet.  And he expects people who are stranded in flooded buildings to do that how?

And,

Raw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around New York City on Tuesday

…The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.

Incidentally, they sent that warning out by email.  To people who obviously were going to have trouble accessing their email.

The storm also precipitated numerous problems at various nuclear power plants, all of which are aging quickly past the lifespans they were designed for and some of which are the same design as the Fukushima facility in Japan,

Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline – Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey…

…NRC officials reported that other plants continued operating but reduced their electrical output as a precaution, including the Millstone plant’s Unit 3 reactor in Waterford, Conn., Vermont Yankee south of Brattleboro, Vt., and both reactors at the Limerick nuclear plant about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports. (emphasis mine)

These are the kinds of issues we need to confront if we are to stand a prayer of survival.  They aren’t theoretical or in the future.  They are real and they are right now.  We need to see this as literally the moment for a sea-change in attitude.  It is not acceptable for the media to continue to ignore climate change,

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org…

…Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives.

And it is not acceptable for our politicians to continue to chest thump  the drums of war while maintaining a deafening silence on climate change. Protecting symbols of military prowess while our cities drown isn’t honorable, it is an act of national suicide.

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The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow–Meditations On A Storm And A Young Friend Who Wants To Serve His Country

In the pre-hurricane calm before Sandy hits, I am sitting by a window (where I probably don’t want to sit tomorrow), watching the skies darken and thinking of a young man that I’ve known since he was in diapers.  After high school, he joined the army and last week, he left to serve in a war zone.  All we can do now is pray that he comes back alive, hopefully without his body or mind broken.

———-

They are now saying that 10 million people could lose power from Hurricane Sandy.  One of the reasons that may happen is that for decades now, we have done far less than we should to protect our utility grids.  Water may be compromised and communications systems too.  Some of that would be inevitable with a storm this size, but proper upgrading and maintenance along the way might well have mitigated that.

What few are talking about and which may be a far larger worry is the potential danger to the 16 nuclear power plants that are in harms way.  After Fukushima, we should have no illusions that these plants can withstand catastrophic weather.  And we should be mindful of the massive amounts of toxic materials that may blow into our water and onto our shores as the storm blows through.

———-

I began by mentioned the young family friend now serving in the military, in a continuing war that serves only to continue to destabilize the world.  Yes, there will always be a few that will want to bomb and destroy us, and perhaps they will get away with killing some of us.  But no terrorist can ever hope to accomplish what climate changed weather has and most certainly will continue to do when it comes to wreaking havoc and destruction.

Yet throughout this presidential campaign, it has been business as usual with the war talk–why we must use drones and must fight terrorists without even a peep about climate change or the environment.

My young friend is a patriot.  He wants to defend the country.  Imagine if instead of fighting wars of empire that serve only to destroy and bankrupt, we brought our soldiers home and asked them to help secure our aging and  dangerous nuclear plants as best we can?  What if we asked them to install solar and wind installations?  What if we asked them to help trim trees off power lines and replace aging water pipes and roads. What if we put the formidable force that is the U.S. military to work doing things that would actually protect the country?  And if we still wanted to send some of our troops overseas, we could help other nations do the same, making them safer and less likely to hate us.

It is too late for this storm, but how many more times does this need to happen before we finally say no more to business as usual and start using our resources to address the real needs of climate change and stop the destructive foreign policy that drains us of our economic resources, destroys other countries and puts our troops in harms way?

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Voting With Eyes Wide Open

It was not until the night of the first presidential debate that I fully understood the degree to which these absurd chest thumping, facts optional charades of democracy have been corrupted.  It frankly never occurred to me that the commission that runs the debates was a private entity.  But as Amy Goodman reported that evening on Democracy Now, they are orchestrated by a “commission” that in reality is a small group of lawyers, corporations and lobbyists with very vested interests. As Lee Fang writes in The Nation, the Democratic co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Mike McCurry, is,

…a former White House press secretary for President Clinton, works as a Partner at Public Strategies Washington, a Beltway lobbying firm.

McCurry doesn’t disclose all of his clients, but his website lists a number of corporations, including Bain Capital, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Lockheed Martin Corporation, the US Chamber of Commerce and Anheuser-Busch…McCurry’s company is also currently being paid over $132,026 to lobby for the Mexican government on issues relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Wonder why none of the debates have covered the TPP—which could have huge implications for the economy?

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr, the Republican co-chair, is the head of a lobbying coalition of major casinos and related gambling industries. Fahrenkopf—who was paid $1,920,561 in 2010, according to IRS records—represents major firms like Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts International, Morgan Stanley, KPMG and Goldman Sachs.

The light begins to dawn.

There is no transparency in how the debates are structured. The format of the debates is agreed to by the candidates in secret memorandums that are so absurd that the one for this year’s vice-presidential debate specified that Vice President Biden could not address Paul Ryan as “Congressman Ryan”.  Really.

But what is even worse is that it is all but given that third party and independent candidates will not be allowed to speak at these forums.  While it is unfortunate that she waited until the last debate to do so, Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed a lawsuit challenging her exclusion from the debates and we can only hope that this leads to a thorough examination of the blatant exclusion of important voices in the political discussion.  Serious candidates such as Stein deserve to be heard and it is to our detriment as a country that we are refused that opportunity.  As the lawsuit points out,

Due to the fact that Dr. Stein is on the ballot in all of the largest states in the country and nearly all of the mid-size states, her name will appear on 85% or more of all ballots cast. As such, 85% or more of the American populace is currently eligible to vote for Dr. Stein in the upcoming Presidential election…

…Dr. Stein has reached a level of support among the American populace such that her campaign has qualified to receive matching funds from the federal government to seek the Presidency…

…Further, and most decisively, due to the cumulative allocation of Electoral College votes designated to those states in which Dr. Stein is on the ballot,[1] she has a “mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2012 general election”, a current prerequisite to participate in the Presidential debates under the current system.  [See Exhibit A: Commission on Presidential Debates 2012 Candidate Selection Criteria: Evidence of Ballot Access]…

…On October 16th, 2012, less than one week ago, the United States Presidential Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, and her Vice-Presidential running mate, Ms. Cheri Honkala, were arrested for being on the grounds of the site of the Presidential debate which was scheduled to take place approximately seven hours later…

Dr. Stein arrived on the grounds of Hofstra University at approximately 2:00pm in order to speak with defendant Commission for Presidential Debates to request that she and other “third party” candidates be allowed to participate in that evening’s Presidential debate. Fifteen minutes after making that request to a representative of defendant Commission, Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were approached by local police and the Secret Service, at which time they were handcuffed, taken to a remote detention facility/wharehouse/ especially set up to house “protestors”, where they were forced to remain for over eight hours while tightly handcuffed to metal chairs until such time as the debate between the only two candidates “invited” to participate in the debate was over…

When Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were finally “un-hancuffed” from the metal chairs and released, they were sent out into the cold night in a remote location with no notice to their lawyers or staff of their release…

Dr. Stein’s comments concerning her arrest, handcuffing, and incarceration are, in essence, the basis for this injunction. Upon her release, Dr. Stein stated: “It was painful but symbolic to be handcuffed for all those hours, because that’s what the Commission on Presidential Debates has essentially done to American democracy.”

…On October 3, 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the Presidential debates for the very reason articulated by Dr. Stein almost a quarter of a century later. As reason for its withdrawal, the head of the League stated as follows: “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter…The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people.”

Unfortunately, we are indeed being hoodwinked, or to be a tad less polite, lied to and sold a bunch of bunkum.  It is beyond understanding how we could have made it through four debates without any discussion of climate change which Dr. Stein would most assuredly have addressed, including the dangers of nuclear energy and the sham that is “clean coal” and it is a sure bet that she would have challenged both Romney and Obama on their stands on the use of drones and insisted on discussing the role of big banks in the foreclosure crisis and on and on.

That Dr. Stein was excluded speaks to the mockery of democracy that our two party system has become.  Yes of course Democrats want to exclude her because they rightly fear she will draw votes from Obama, but right leaning candidates have been excluded by this private commission as well and the real truth is that neither party dares let us lay bare the corporate purse strings that dictate their positions.  George Farrah has detailed the story of the debate commission in his book, “No Debate”.  It’s worth a read.

———-

But the exclusion of legitimate political contenders is only part of the electoral nightmare.  This year we are facing highly orchestrated well funded efforts to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters.  And we are once again facing the counting of our votes by machines that have been proven time and time again to be vulnerable to hackers and manipulation.  The problems with electronic voting machines have been known since the 2000 election and there have been problems with them in every election since and yet our politicians stupifyingly refuse to mandate a verifiable paper trail.

In recent days, mainstream media pundits like NBC’s Chuck Todd have said the idea of electronic voter fraud is a conspiracy theory.  But it isn’t.  As people like Brad Friedman, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have painstakingly documented, it is entirely possible. And it is very scary that the votes cast on these machines are tallied by private corporations run by strong Republican allies.  That the Romney family has investments in these companies is an arrogance so supreme that it should erase any doubt as to the corruptability of these machines.

Not so many years ago, my grandparents, Ida and Herbert Besser volunteered to work at the polls every election day.  And when the votes were finally cast and the polling places closed, the votes were counted by government officials and citizens, not by machines and corporations.  Yes there was always corruption, but the level of fraud that is possible now would have boggled Ida and Herb’s minds.

—–

Which leads me to this.  Yes I will vote for Barack Obama, but I am tired up the wazoo with being confronted with having to chose between the lesser of two evils.  Yes, Obama has done some excellent things when it comes to women’s rights, an issue dear to my heart.  But make no mistake, nevermind his Nobel Peace Prize to the contrary, this is a war president, not a peace president.  And his lack of leadership on environmental issues can only be explained by looking at the huge political donations that he receives from energy companies.  And there is no doubt that banking and other large corporate contributions were significant factors in shaping his economic policies.  That is not the kind of leadership we need, but there is little doubt that a Romney presidency would be far worse.

Regardless of what happens election day, the American people are the losers.  And before another 4 years go by, we need to bring an end to the horror that Citizens United has brought.  We need to get rid of the antiquated electoral college system and we need to demand a verifiable vote count and we need to reclaim the debates and allow candidates outside the two party system to be heard.

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The Media’s Failed Look At What Is Happening On The Streets And A Personal Reflection

Occupation for Dummies

There has been no shortage of media confusion in DC this week regarding the OccupyDC and October2011 Stop The Machine actions. I got into a conversation yesterday with a reporter from a local television station who was interviewing people at OccupyDC, she seemed to genuinely want to understand the difference. I pointed out that it seemed like very few members of the Mainstream Media had bothered to check the websites for the two groups which would clarify quite a lot.

Isn’t this sort of like the opposite of the Tea Party, she wondered. I pointed out that these movements represented people who were out of work, had lost their homes, had no health insurance, and wanted an end to  militarism without end and the number of people impacted by those issues is a lot larger than the number of people who identify with the Tea Party.

But the most idiotic media confusion in DC this week has been who was where. It wasn’t so complicated–OccupyDC at McPherson Square, Stop The Machine at Freedom Plaza. Yet in Sunday morning’s Washington Post, with OccupyDC at McPherson for over a week and Stop The Machine in place since Thursday, the caption writer for this photo still got it wrong.

The WaPo caption erroneously reads, "A crowd gathers Thursday at Freedom Plaza for the first day of the OccupyDC rally..."

And the headline–hello? It isn’t the same as the one used online, but, “The common man”? Really? Which century is this? They also apparently didn’t look at the photo which rather clearly shows the common woman.

With this kind of media, no wonder many people are confused about what is happening in the streets.

The best way to understand the movement that is taking root everywhere is to go find out for yourself.  Yes, there is an Occupy near you.

Several people have said to me, oh it is just a bunch of kids.  No, it is not.  And it’s not just a bunch of hippie peaceniks either.  It ranges from toddlers who are there with their parents (there was a little area with toys and crayons at OccupyDC yesterday) to elders with plenty of folks in between.  I talked for a bit with a young man in an army uniform. It was very courageous for him to be there. He had been to Iraq once and was due to ship out again soon, but he said he wasn’t planning to re-deploy, what he had experienced on his first tour had made him realize that militarism was deeply flawed.  He looked sad and wise beyond his years.

And do not underestimate the numbers, it isn’t just a hundred here and a thousand there, it is far, far larger than that.

A crowd shot at Occupy Wall Street--that is A LOT of people

This isn’t about one issue, it is about the American people connecting all the issues and finally saying enough.  There are those who have criticized what is going on for not having a clear statement of purpose or intent.  What they miss is that people everywhere have decided to take back the commons, and that is intention enough.

There is more to say, much more, the time I have spent on the street this last week has been transformative.  I have re-connected with old friends, made new ones and for the first time in a long time felt genuine hope.  Don’t be afraid, come out and join us.

Addenda:  The amount of inaccurate reporting involving Occupy DC and Stop the Machine is becoming epic.  Today the Washington Post reports that OccupyDC may stay in Freedom Plaza past the time time they have a permit.  Sorry, wrong group.  Yahoo News is now calling the pepper-spraying of protesters at the Air and Space Museum on Saturday a riot and ABCNews7 tweeted this morning that at least one person planned to stay past the permit time in Freedom Plaza although the article they linked to actually says a number of people plan to stay.  And that is just today.  The amount of media stupid when it comes to reporting what has transpired over the last week plus in DC is to the point where it is hard to see it as anything but deliberate.

 

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At What Cost?

And so we finally got Bin Laden.  In the run-up to the President’s announcement as the news pundits could hardly find enough superlatives to fill the time, my only thought was “at what cost?”.

This war of retribution has cost us dearly, and by us I mean the global us.  In Afghanistan and Iraq the most, countries ruined, so many innocent lives lost.

Here in the U.S., not only did we lose those who died on September 11th, but so many who were sent to fight, dead and maimed too.  And in the process, we have all but bankrupted our country, social services decimated, education cut, children hungry, people without jobs or homes or healthcare.

How sad that this is how we define victory.

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Saturday Night Oil Slick Dictator Overthrowing Nuclear Rant

Early Saturday evening I decided to just ignore the fact that President Obama decided to start another war on a weekend after we’d just spent a week being totally traumatized by the disaster in Japan. I mean really? This couldn’t have waited until Monday? So I selfishly took two hours off to watch a cheesy movie without my laptop at my side. I know, you can see this coming– the second the credits are rolling I tune back in and bam! Now we have an oil slick too? I need to join a union, didn’t they bring us weekends?

But let’s go back to that morally uplifting idea of helping the Libyan rebels by enforcing a no-fly zone because the dude in charge is bombing his own people. Yes, I’m all about supporting people who are overthrowing dictators. Especially dictators that are bat-shit crazy. But guess what–that isn’t why we’re there and anyhow, we bomb innocent civilians all the time–think Afghanistan and Pakistan. If it  actually was the reason why we’re now lobbing missiles, don’t you think maybe we might have possibly put in an appearance in other countries with violent ruthless leaders? The Congo and Sudan come to mind. Burma, Indonesia Uganda. I could keep going.

And doesn’t this sound scary familiar–shouldn’t take too long we’re told, it’s about taking out strategic targets, not bombing civilians. Oh yeah and there is an Al Queda connection. Only a matter of days until we’re there to rescue women too. But guess what, it’s not about that either–the reason we are really there–one word and it isn’t plastics–OIL.  Oil that we lust after that has the unmitigated chutzpah to be under their sand.

But hey it’s March, how are your brackets working out? We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality show.

Rant over, feeling much better and looking forward to whatever tomorrow’s crisis du jour might be.

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Smokin’ Date Night In DC Takes Off

No sorry, this is not a post about my social life.  I swore I wouldn’t join the pundit-infested SOTU post-mortem, and I’m only going to do so briefly, but when we’ve reached a point where the analysis includes whether or not Emily Post would be rolling over in her grave, all bets are off, although I’ll keep it brief.

Sputnik?  Really?  What percentage of Americans even know what Sputnik was?  The analogy is old, stale and just plain off the mark. That the President sees the future as a winnable race does not bode well.

And then there was the salmon joke.  Ha ha.  But not really ha ha if you consider the peril to  survival that salmon populations face these days.

The speech was delusional as SOTU’s always are. Imagine if just once, a President got up to that podium and told the truth.  In the meantime, we should take heart from Miss (Judith) Manner’s comments about the speech,

“Date night worked,” said Judith Martin, author of the syndicated Miss Manners column. “Instead of looking like a hockey game … it looked like a dignified legislature.”

One can hope.  I give it about 24 hours until the pucks start flying again.

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